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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on every Monday. A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom." 
Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of US Youth Soccer.


Cloudy with a Chance of Storms

Susan Boyd

Admit it — when you watch your kids play soccer, your sideline behavior mimics the pinball wizard. You are swooping left and right as they dribble down the field. You’re bumping and grinding in an effort to influence a shot. We should expect a giant "tilt" to flash across the sky every time we try to will our child’s kick to the proper target, whether it be a teammate or the goal. Worse, we parents turn into competitors when we arrive at the field, ready to do combat vicariously. We also become critics judging everything during the game, including the coaches, the referees and most importantly — our own children. Not wanting to appear judgmental, we bite our tongues, chew the skin off the inside of our cheeks and swallow our injured pride as we glide toward our players with a sunny smile plastered on our face.
We bring to games at minimum the wisdom of age and at maximum personal prowess in the sport. Therefore, we have a huge context in which to place all the events of a game. If we are the least bit competitive, which to be honest applies to all of us, we want to see our children, their team and their club, succeed. In the first place, achievement is definitely preferable over failure. But more importantly, our children’s accomplishments reflect positively on our parenting. We take pride in their triumphs and bask in the reflected glory. Therefore, it’s natural that when we see possibilities for improvement we want to rush in and offer them. Should we also have experience in the sport, or any sport, then we come from the point of view of a knowledgeable teacher. We feel our instruction is warranted because we come from a place of experience. We also understand that our kids are far less receptive to us as teachers than actual teachers. All they want is unconditional support, which leads to the shredded cheeks and punctured tongues.
How should we handle our own competiveness, especially when we see great potential in our kids that they don’t rise to? It’s not easy. Our kids have the power to drive us crazy. Luckily when they are pre-teen, most don’t recognize how much power they have. Thank goodness! Otherwise, we’d have to deal with their purposeful pressure on top of our own internal pressure. Can we just stand by and let everything play out naturally? I seriously doubt it, and I’m not convinced that’s the right way to handle it. We do have a responsibility to nurture our kids, support them and, yes, teach them. Sports exist in their world and are part and parcel of our kids’ experience and growth. But we do have to tread lightly, especially if we have experience either in sports in general or in soccer specifically, lest our passion be interpreted as criticism. There are three specific things we can do.
First, long before you talk to your child, your actions will speak volumes. Don’t be that embarrassing parent on the sidelines screaming and yelling at anything that moves. I wish following games parents would have to watch a video of the game, but only focused on the sidelines. My son-in-law is the team videographer for my grandsons’ football teams. They live seven hours away, and since football season runs concurrent with soccer season, we don’t make many of our grandsons’ games. Therefore, we watch the videos. Oh boy are they revealing. While the boys play with zeal, the audio feed reveals what the parents are saying the sidelines. Fifty percent of the dialog is R-rated, around 80 percent is attacking, and only a sliver is positive reinforcement and usually comes when a long run or a score is made, not just spontaneously during the game. When our kids look over and see us getting worked up, fighting with referees, fighting with other parents or just showing stern faces and clenched jaws, they feel the tension. So a broad smile and a "good game" at the final whistle contradicts the behavior the kids observed for 60 minutes, totally confusing them. Letting go of our own vicarious investment in the game to just support our kids and pushing our judgment into the background will set the stage for a dialog later.
Second, when the game is over find the things to praise even if the game was a blowout and not in favor of your kid’s team. It is actually amazing how that helps the knot in your stomach, quells the urge to start lecturing and gives everyone involved the time to feel good even if the atmosphere is bad. Knowing that you have to say something positive at the end of the game means that you have to pay attention to find those positive moments, which helps take the focus off the negative. Sometimes kids feel so badly about a game that there is little you can say. They will reject any attempt to offer a positive outlook. They just want to feel bad. We learned with both our sons that after a loss or a game where they were on the bench more than on the field, we needed to just keep silent. After a while they initiate a conversation usually not about the game, but eventually they segued into the game. We let them vent. But we still presented them with something we witnessed that was positive, not always easy to locate, but even to say "glad the rain held off" can bring a smile to a child’s face.
Third, open a dialog not by offering advice but by asking your child, "How did you feel about the game?" This gives them the opportunity to locate the topic. Kids are intuitive about their performance, the performance of the team and the performance of the adults involved, so let them decide what they want to talk about. It will often happen that your child ends up asking your advice or at least opening the door for you to offer some suggestions. Your child might say, "I thought I was really passing the ball well, but the coach kept telling me that I wasn’t doing it right." This gives you the chance to ask, "What exactly did the coach think you were doing wrong?" — creating the opening for a discussion about passing. Perhaps you noticed that she was rearing back too much with the leg or not passing with her head up, so if she tells you the coach saw this as well, it gives you a chance to talk about how valid that criticism is. Let your child take the lead. "I think my head IS up!" Your response could be, "Well let’s work on that at home. Maybe we can make it more obvious to the coach." Avoid taking sides against your child, which just makes the situation not only adversarial but also makes your child defensive. Often sincere suggestions can seem attacking. That’s why playing off your child’s perceptions lets you be supportive while actually pursuing an agenda of instruction. Kids do manipulate us, but as adults we should be able to manipulate a situation such that we don’t come off as the bad guys and have the opportunity to deliver positive life lessons. As an auxiliary to all of this, remember not to start this dialog while walking off the field or even during the ride home unless your child begins it. Wait a bit (here’s where the tongue biting and tooth gnashing come in) and then broach the subject. Everyone will be calmer, time heals wounds, and time offers you the chance to gather your thoughts so you don’t express knee-jerk comments based on your competitive disappointments.
I sat for four years watching my daughter come in last in the 1000-meter freestyle swimming races. She didn’t just come in last. She came in last a good five minutes after her next competitor. I hate the smell of chlorine, the race was always the last event (last is the theme here), and she was always last out of the locker room afterward. My tongue, lips, teeth and cheeks all suffered permanent damage while I held back. The fact is she was always happy, talked about how certain times she earned were her best, how she improved on her turns and how the coach told her she was getting better. So I never had the opportunity to even talk to her about the things I thought she should work on. She didn’t want to hear it, so it wasn’t my place to offer it. She wasn’t going to be Missy Franklin, and they don’t race the 1000-meter in world competition. So what difference would it have made? All I would have done is created an atmosphere where she felt diminished. That’s the real lesson here. Sometimes as parents we just need to step back and let things unfold naturally. My son, Robbie, spent his first two years in soccer wandering around, passing the ball to whomever ran by no matter the jersey color and watching the clouds overhead. We never expected him to eventually become Gatorade Player of the Year in Wisconsin or be elected to the Second ESPN Rise team in 2009. We thought he would play soccer for fun for a few years and then move on to something else, perhaps being a meteorologist. But when he moved to a select club because his brother, who was always driven, moved there, he blossomed. Once again, we never offered any advice, but in this case there was little advice to offer once he decided soccer was his passion.
Therefore, I would say that as parents we can enjoy our kids’ play, but we usually can’t do much to change it. If we want to change it, we have to be very cautious in how we approach the discussion. And most importantly, we have to accept that our child’s investment in the sport can’t be taught. Our kids have to decide that they care enough to improve, even to push themselves to the highest levels. Our role is primarily to support that drive as best we can with good coaching, travel to appropriate tournaments, and the best club we can comfortably afford. The rest of it is far too ephemeral like those clouds Robbie liked to watch. We have to accept we can’t sculpt the clouds.

Comments (1)


Bully Coaches

Susan Boyd

Gruesome. Distressing. Sickening. Appalling. Heartbreaking. No, I’m not talking about the very public injury to Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware, although these adjectives fit. I’m talking about video that cropped up this past week of Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice verbally and physically assaulting his players. Making it worse is that his actions were brought to the attention of the administration in November by the director of player development. Rutgers’ response? Send the director out the door without a renewed contract, and slap the coach with a mere three-game suspension and fine. So the punishment not only didn’t fit the crime, but it didn’t really address the perpetrator, only the messenger. The case has an eerie déjà vu for me since my sons’ college soccer coach was eventually fired for the same behavior. Yet it took nearly 18 months before any meaningful action was taken. In the meantime, my boys and their teammates had to endure months of racial slurs and other abuse.
Some fans might argue that we live in a culture of winning at any cost, and players who accept a college scholarship have to also accept the tough atmosphere needed to foster wins. After all, these programs live or die (which means the coaches live or die) by their ability to win and generate fan interest and financial support. That argument might be stronger if all the coaches allowed to retain their jobs when faced with boorish, and in some cases, dangerous behavior had winning records. This is not the case with Mike Rice, nor the case with dozens of similar situations throughout clubs, high schools and universities. While Rice was swiftly fired just hours after the video surfaced publicly, it does little to change the perception of administrations, clubs and even parents covering up this bullying behavior. 
Imagine a teacher striking a child in any way during a classroom lesson or belittling that child with racial or sexual slurs or calling a child’s intelligence into question by shouting, "You’re an idiot!" That teacher wouldn’t last long. Yet somehow when we step outside the classroom, the church, the library, the museum or other places of learning, we begin to tolerate this type of verbal and physical abuse. We excuse it with the wrong-headed belief that because it might have gone on before it is somehow okay to continue it. We entrust adults with our children because we expect the adults to behave in a mature manner. However, when adults in leadership positions fail to act appropriately, we often remain silent. Sometimes it is a fear that our children will be regarded as trouble-makers or weaklings for complaining. Sometimes it is because we witness other parents perfectly content with the coach and his/her style. And sometimes it is because we just don’t want to make waves.
Nevertheless, we have an obligation to understand when the line has been crossed. I’ve always supported gruff coaches who criticize play but not the player and refrain from personal verbal and physical attacks. All of my four kids have had coaches who yelled but not in a direct individual manner. Coaches have a natural passion for their sport, which comes out with an intense style of instruction. Yet winning can’t be an excuse for bad behavior. Teachers want to win, too. They want their pupils to succeed which also represents the teachers’ success. They manage to refrain from yelling, pacing the sidelines, and openly questioning administrators (read referees) in front of the kids. We would never tolerate a teacher behaving like many coaches do, and teachers have been fired for far less.
So why would anyone allow a coach to exercise conduct that we would never tolerate in our teachers, religious leaders and other supervisors of our children’s education? The difference is how we perceive winning as a nation. Winning in the classroom doesn’t have the same impact as winning against the best team in the league. It should, but it doesn’t. We put tremendous stock in a single game and can be distressed by a loss. We invest our energy and our ego into the outcomes on a field in a very public and immediate way. Coaches take that investment as a blank check for exercising extreme behaviors, which they believe will create or insure a win. All too often we parents buy into that philosophy. The sad and disturbing result appeared in the Rutgers video and plays out on the fields and courts of youth sports.
These coaches believe in humiliation as a motivator. Studies prove it actually has the opposite effect. If humiliation worked, no one would smoke, be overweight, lie or take drugs. Kids who are humiliated actually revert to negative behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, smoking, absenteeism, and even suicide. Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher did a report on middle school students looking at humiliation by both students and teachers toward other students. They included data from other studies and their conclusion was that humiliation did nothing to curb students’ actions and did great damage. Mike Rice demonstrated the behavior of a classic bully. He had the power to attack and belittle them. Using the umbrella of teaching/coaching as a rationalization for his behavior, he felt justified in pushing his players figuratively and literally to become winners. The actual result was a 44-51 record at Rutgers during three years without a single winning season. Three players transferred as a result of both the coach’s tactics and the years of losing.
Children need to see that bullying isn’t acceptable. We need to insure that our coaches don’t perpetuate a bullying model. The expression of any frustration or instruction should be focused on play not on the kids’ personalities, physical traits, religion or parents. More importantly, coaches need to find moments they can praise. It’s not enough to just criticize. Kids get a defeatist attitude, which means they don’t believe they can improve. So an occasional compliment can go a long way to continue to motivate progress. We see the way our kids’ faces brighten up when told we’re proud of them. And honestly, we parents are no different. We love hearing from our spouses that we look good or to be thanked for doing a chore. We welcome a pat on the back from co-workers or bosses. We appreciate the odd compliment while out, including, "Your children are so well-behaved." Likewise, none of us respond well to criticism, even constructive criticism, and we certainly don’t enjoy being humiliated.
We want to say "bully" to our coaches in the same way Teddy Roosevelt used the word to mean great job. We don’t want to say "bully" about our coaches meaning that they overstep social and moral boundaries of behavior. We need to be vigilant and not to brush aside conduct that makes us uncomfortable. Many coaches will stretch the edges of proper demeanor until they are told to rein it in. We mustn’t be afraid of speaking up. Certainly, as children get older and the stakes get higher for coaches, schools and clubs, the expectations and criticisms will increase in intensity. But it never has to descend into the personal in order to be effective. Good coaches know that.

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My Experience as a Clinician at the Ontario Soccer Association Coaching Conference

Sam Snow

A week ago I had the pleasure to be a clinician at the Ontario Soccer Association Coaching Conference as a part of the Canada Soccer Association implementation of Long Term Player Development (LTPD) for their Olympic sports.  For our sport LTPD takes into account that it takes more than 20 years to deeply develop a top notch soccer player.

On March 23rd I gave a class session to the technical directors. Please click here for the PowerPoint presentation: [link]. On March 24th I conducted a demo session on Defending Games for the public.


Club Head Coach and Technical Director Workshop



When: Saturday March 23, 2013 from 1:30 PM to 5:00 PM EDT
Where: Four Points by Sheraton - Toronto Airport
6257 Airport Road
Mississauga, ON L4V 1E4



Hello Club Head Coaches and Technical Directors! 

The workshop schedule will go as follows:

  • 12:30 - 1:30 - Workshop Registration
  • 1:30 - 1:45 - Opening Comments - Alex Chiet
  • 1:45 - 2:30 - Sam Snow
  • 2:30 - 3:00 - Nick Levett
  • 3:00 - 3:15 - BREAK
  • 3:15 - 4:00 - John Herdman
  • 4:00 - 4:45 - Panel Questions
  • 4:45 - 5:00 - Coach Department Update - Mark Marshall

It was quite encouraging to hear from a national team head coach an approach to not only coaching a national team, but also the plan for the development of female football for an entire nation hitting on many of the same philosophies and methods that we advocate. Mindset and problem solving/tactical awareness were central themes of coach Herdman’s lecture and practical sessions.

It was also good to receive indirect validation of the American approach from a renowned national association, the Football Association. The Future Game is the new model in England. Indeed, as you look now at the coaching and player development schemes of many nations you’ll see common ground with the direction that US Youth Soccer has taken for many years. The common points are the use of guided discovery, player-centered training and matches, small-sided games, problem solving by players in training to create a soccer savvy player, the use of games based training, etc.

2013 Ontario Soccer Association
Coaching Conference Information and Schedule